"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Monday, August 7, 2017

when the news hits home

I've watched, with anxiety and sadness, as "bathroom bills" have been introduced and defended by people who fear, so hatefully, that which they do not know.

I've also watched business owners around the country and right here in my own little town take part in a quiet counter-protest: thoughtfully removing the His and Hers labels from their single stall restrooms and replacing them with clever signs like the ones adorning the restroom doors in my brother's restaurant: "Either" and "Or."

Or, maybe my personal favorite, this one...

Image result for whatever just wash your hands
Image credit: Redbubble

I knew it was important and I knew it might one day be personally important for my family...but I didn't think the impact of gendered bathrooms would be felt so soon.

It happened several weeks before I even knew it was happening: Max was noticing. He was noticing the "everybody bathrooms," as he calls them, and he was noticing the bathrooms for which he needed to make a choice. He was also noticing (whether real or projected) the curious looks he received when he made the choice that matched his gender identity (boy) but not his clothes. 

He started asking Sam or Evan to accompany him in to the bathroom or for me to wait right outside. He started to "just wait until we get home...it's not an emergency."

And that's when I finally noticed. I noticed that, as comfortable as he is in his own skin, as right as he is in his understanding and expression of self, he's not immune to the effects of a society as gendered as ours is. He is dealing with so much more every day than I give him credit for and, somehow, he is still, literally, the happiest, most joyful and creative child I have ever met.

Society hasn't taken that from him yet and I'll be damned if it does.

A few weeks ago, we were in my brother's restaurant. Max returned from the "Either" bathroom and said, "I just love how Uncle Mike has Everybody Bathrooms in his shop. Then no one has to wonder why you're in there! Everybody should have Everybody Bathrooms.... even schools."

And there it was. Second grade is the first year that the students do not have a single-stall "everybody bathroom" in their classroom. He had projected that, every time he needs to use the restroom, he will be running the risk of having to defend his right to be in the boys' room.

So, I asked him what we could do to solve the problem...because in the grand scheme of things bathrooms are a little deal. There's no sense worrying about a whole awesome school year over something as little as bathrooms.

Max didn't hesitate. "I want you to set up a meeting for me with Mr. C."

Leave it to Max to initiate a meeting with his Principal. Man, I love that kid.

Today was the meeting and it was fantastic.

After expressing his concerns to his Principal, Max explained that a reasonable solution to his problem would be an Everybody Bathroom. Mr. C first confirmed with Max that there hadn't been a situation that made Max feel unsafe in the building. He wanted to make sure that this was a proactive conversation rather than a response to something negative that had already taken place. Max assured him that no, he feels safe in the building, just uncomfortable in the boys' bathroom. 

Mr. C then proceeded to take us on a tour of the school, pointing out the FOUR Everybody Bathrooms in the building that Max, and anyone else, can use whenever they need to. No matter where Max is in the building during his school day, he has a single-stall Everybody Bathroom right at the end of the hall.

What a school. What an administrator. What a lucky mama I am to have landed here with my babes.

Both pleased with how the meeting went, Max and Mr. C shook hands and we left.

As soon as we got in the car, Max breathed a sigh of relief...and then released his inner diva:

"I just feel SO much better, Mommy! It's like, I was SO excited about second grade because some people say it's, like, their favorite grade E-VER...but then I was so nervous about the, ya know, bathroom situation. So now I'm, like, totally fine with everything and I'm, like, LIT-ER-A-LLY counting down the DAYS! ohmygosh...."

I smiled and said, "That's right, babe. Nothing to worry about. It's going to be a great year."

Lesson Learned:
Now that we have the bathroom situation under control, time to work on that valley girl sass. 

As soon as he stepped out of the car, he said, "And you know what else I'm sick of? When people ask if I'm a boy or a girl. From now on, when someone says, 'Max, are you a boy or a girl?' I'm gonna say...[cocks his hip, flips his wrist, struts his stuff]...Whatevs! I'm gender FLUID, baby."

I LIT-ER-A-LLY don't know where he gets it. I'm just so freaking glad he owns it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

7 1/2

Seven and a half is killing me. He is absent-minded and easily distracted. Bedtime and before school are the worst...it takes fifteen reminders before he completes tasks like brushing his teeth or putting his pajamas on. And when, by the fifteenth reminder, I have raised my voice in order to be heard, he looks at me with shock and irritation and demands to know why I'm always yelling.

We've been here before...he is our second child, of course...the arguing, the negotiating, the debating every single word that comes out of my mouth...what's new this time around, though is the sass. MY GOD THE SASS!

The stomping, the eye-rolling, the slamming of doors, the sassy tone where vowels are stretched to multiple syllables and every word ends with an -uh..."But, Mo-o-o-mm-uh! Whyyyyyy-uh?! That is so unfaaaairr-uh!"

I can't take much more of this.

Luckily, we're in the downward slide into summer and a looser schedule and fewer stressors and obligations are on our horizon. That's got to help, right?

And luckily, because he's the one and only Max, it's not all bad. He's still quick with the snuggles (and the "I'm sorry"s), and sprinkled in with the sass and 'tude have been some classic Maxisms. I just love the way he lives his life and sees the world.

The other day, he was listening to music on an old iPhone we keep just for the music. We've finally started paying for Apple's streaming service so he can listen to unlimited music without purchasing every song he wants to listen to. We've probably saved hundreds of dollars and close to a billion GBs of storage.

He popped out his earbuds and brought the phone in to me in the kitchen.

"Mom," he said. "There's this Katie Perry song I want to listen to. Can you listen to it first so you can make sure it's appropriate?

I was impressed by this responsible choice. We're pretty lax with our music censorship...we allow our kids to listen to just about anything as long as it's "radio friendly." They know, though, that Apple music does allow songs "with that little 'E' next to it," so I appreciated his caution, and let him know so.

"Wow. Sure, bud. I appreciate you asking me to do that."

He handed me the phone and the song "E.T." was queued up. Because I'm super lame, I wasn't familiar with it, so I pushed play.

A few bars of a drum beat and crescendo and Katie begins: "You're. So. Hypno-tiz-ing..."

Annnnnndd, then Max joins in: "...could you be the devil, could you be an angel..."

He proceeded to sing along, hitting every word, key change, and staccato'ed syllable flawlessly..."Kiss me, k-k-kiss me..."

I just stared at him. He was really feeling the music. I didn't want to interrupt. When it was over, I asked, "So this, just now, was the first time you've ever heard this song?"

His eyes got huge. "Um. Well. To be honest, no. I've heard it before. I've listened to it a lot, in fact. I just listened to it three times in a row just now."

"Mmm-hmmm..." I said, smiling.

"And...well...the other day, when I asked you what an extra-terrestrial was....? It was because I had heard about it in this song."

"I see..." I said, before pushing play one more time and joining in for the choruses.

The best thing about 7-year olds is how terrible they are at lying.


On library day this week, Max was packing his library books in his backpack. For the second week in a row, he read an entire Wings of Fire chapter book in the seven days between check-out and due date.

"I can't believe I read the whole book before I had to return it," he gushed, so proud of his achievement.

"I know, bud! You really worked hard to make that happen."

"Well, yeah, but it's because I'm older now. I don't get bored reading a lot like I did in Kindergarten," he reasoned.

"You're also a stronger reader now than you were in Kindergarten," I answered.

He paused, thoughtful for a minute.

"You know how I lay on my belly in my bed to read? Like with my book on my pillow and my elbows are holding me up?"

"Yeah, I know what you mean. I used to read like that, too."

"Well, sometimes my arms and shoulders start to hurt. Is that the burn?"

"The burn?" I asked, confused.

"Yeah, the burn. You said I was a stronger reader now. Is that because I've been feeling the burn?"

And then I just LOL'ed all the live long day.

Lesson Learned:

This kid. Thank goodness for this kid. And thank goodness for the hilarity that comes out of his mouth that helps temper the rage I feel when he cocks his hip, crosses his arms across his chest, and rolls his eyes at me for the tenth time in a day. This dramatic diva drives me nutty...but oh, I love him so.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

an Answer

On Thursday afternoon, the House Republicans voted to dismantle our health care system. That very morning, we received the diagnosis we had been searching for, but narrowly avoiding, for the past year.

The diagnosis came just hours before 217 (predominantly) old, white men spitefully decided that being powerful was more important than being compassionate...and just days after Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama defended charging more for preexisting conditions (and allowing insurance companies to deny coverage to people with them). He said that this allows insurers to reward “people who lead good lives,” insinuating, of course, that people with complex medical histories brought that trouble upon themselves.

I would like to invite Mr. Brooks to meet my 10-year old.

To the representative, he may be unworthy of compassion and care...fit to punish for his poor life choice of having received this diagnosis...but to me, Evan is like no one I've ever met. He is smart and sensitive. He is willful and can be defiantly independent. He has a tender heart and a moral compass that is straight and true. He loves to build with Lego and create fortresses on Minecraft. He is a newly-crowned Kickball King and still wants to be tucked in to bed at night. He has a passion for Facts and compassion for the young and the furry. He has plans of joining the military when he gets older but who also sees himself as a father; "Who wouldn't want kids?!" he's asked, incredulously.

On Thursday, we learned that Evan has Crohn's disease.

Crohn's is an inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal system. Though it can go into remission and sufferers can have symptom-free periods, it's a chronic condition that cannot be cured, only managed.

He'll have it forever. For the rest of his life, Evan will need to take medicine, have frequent blood draws, and undergo regular scopes and MRIs to monitor his condition.

There are positives:

First and foremost, it's an Answer. An answer to the weight loss and the anemia, an answer to the "phantom fevers" that Evan seemingly could bring about by his own volition...he has a history of spiking fevers leading up to or at the conclusion of just about every holiday, trip, or special event. These were probably a result of the Crohn's inflammation, which can flare up under stress. It may even account for some of his food allergies. It's not the answer I was hoping for (Not gonna lie, "Oops! Our measurements have ALL been wrong ALL year! Evan is growing beautifully and his hemoglobin levels are excellent!" would have been nice.), but it's an Answer with a Plan.

Evan's Crohn's was caught early. (We are so unbelievably grateful for our persistent pediatrician and our pediatric gastroenterologist, who refused to take a wait and see approach when they saw that Evan's growth was restricted even after removing all suspected allergens from his diet. Crohn's can be a sneaky beast to catch, wreaking quiet havoc until extensive damage is done and it can no longer hide.) Because it was caught at such a young age, Evan should be able to make up for the weight he's lost and reach his full growth potential.

Also, the area of inflammation is relatively small, so we are able to start Evan's immunotherapy with an oral medication taken daily. If, after a year of blood draws and scopes, his inflammation is under control and he is able to gain weight, this will be our course of action until anything changes. If his inflammation rages up again or he continues to lose weight, we will alter course. He will then receive his immunotherapy through IV infusions every 8 weeks.

But first, oral steroids, to quiet his entire system so the immunotherapy drugs have a chance to work.

One of the many times I cried during Sam's and my consult with our PedsGI doc Thursday morning was when he mentioned "oral medication."

"Like a pill?!" I cried. "But he doesn't know how to swallow a pill! He still drinks his Children's Tylenol out of a tiny plastic cup!" (My mind still hadn't wrapped around the idea that this would be our New Normal. A pill or six a day. Every day. Forever.)

The doctor smiled warmly, reassuringly. "He'll learn," he said. "He can do this."

The doctor, yet again, was right.

That first night, Friday night, was rough. He needs a pretty high dose of steroids, so he has three pills to swallow, twice a day. He couldn't quite get the first one down so it melted on his tongue and stuck to the roof of his mouth. It was horribly bitter. There were tears, but there was determination.

"This time, give 'em both to me at once," he said. We did, and they went down easily.

Saturday morning, he took all three at once like a boss. Like he's been doing it forever.

Forever. That damn word.

We've been really open with him about what's going on. I've hidden my tears (nearly successfully, I think), but we've told him the truth. "Will I have this forever?" he asked. "Forever," I said. He cast his eyes downward and his chin quivered. I quickly went on: "But you won't feel bad forever. In fact, once we start these medicines, you'll probably feel better than you have ever felt before."

And we talked about how he's not alone. Lots of people in our life have chronic issues for which they take medicine regularly...forever. It's not their fault...their bodies just need a little extra help to work properly. "Aren't we lucky that we know what your body needs? Aren't we lucky that the doctors know just how to help?"

I said that last part for myself as much as for him.

We're so lucky.

F*ing Crohn's. But we're so lucky to know. He's going to be okay.

So long as the GOP doesn't ruin health care for us and everyone else.

Lesson Learned:
These last few days have been a whirlwind. I'm pretty sure I have experienced every stage of grief over a 24 hour period...in between making dinners, playing Pet Store, answering emails, scheduling field trips, prepping for a yard sale, and PTO meetings, of course. Life goes on. And so will we.

This kid amazes me on the regular...but through all the shit he's been through this past year...the endless doctor's appointments, the countless needle sticks, the scopes, the MRI (the barium contrast!), the diagnosis, the pills...he just handles it, and I've never been more proud of him.

It hasn't all been easy and there have been times that I have wanted to just put my head in the sand and ignore everything. But he keeps pushing through. I have every confidence that he's going to be able to handle everything Crohn's throws his way. He'll use the same defiant determination that has, at times, been the bane of our relationship and show Crohn's who's the boss of him. And he'll do it every day, Forever.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

the kickball game

Molly and I arrived at school Friday afternoon to pick up the boys, like we always do. On that day, however, for the very first time, we would be bringing home a 10-year old. It was Evan's birthday.

We met Max first and together we walked to the front lobby to wait for our big boy. The bell rang and a stream of fourth- and fifth-graders flooded the hallways. After just a minute or so, I saw him as he rounded the corner. He looked different...bigger. A smile spread across his face as he caught my eye. It's not that he was just so happy to see me, his mama. No, it was something else. A sparkle in his eye, his chest puffed up a bit. It was joy, but it was also pride. I swear my little guy looked ten-feet tall walking towards us.

Before I could tousle his hair, sneak a top-of-the-head kiss, and say "happy birthday," he began:

"Picture this," he said, as we three listeners stood rapt, ignoring the swell of the crowd around us.

"This afternoon. Bonus recess. Kickball game. We're down by three, 13-10, and we're kicking. It's the last up of the game, 'cause Ms. G had just given us the warning to finish up. So I get up to kick. As soon as they see that it's me coming up to kick, all the kids on the other team in the outfield come in real close. Probably because they know I usually don't kick it really far...."

[I have to stop myself from reacting to this. This is Truth, provided without emotion or self-consciousness. It is merely a logical description of Fact, from my very logical kid.]

He continues without missing a beat:

"So the ball's coming toward me and as soon as I kick it, I know it's awesome. It goes sailing. Over. Their. Heads. and WAY out into the outfield. I start running. Man on third gets home. Man on second gets home. Mason's rounding to third and they try to peg him out but the ball misses him by, like, thismuch. Mason gets home. I'm still running. I GET HOME. It was an INSIDE THE PARK GRAND SLAM HOME RUN. And I helped my team win the game!"

You know I started to cry. Right there in the freaking lobby of my kids' school, I teared up over a freaking kickball game. As Max high-fived him and exclaimed, "OHMYGOSH, Evan!! Good job, bro!" I hugged my game-winning 10-year old tight and he didn't protest.

We talked about it the whole way home. We talked about it again when Sam got home from work. I could hear that kid of mine tell that story 100 times and it would make me tear up every time. Evan, the MVP.

When Evan's Destination Imagination team won 1st Place in the State tournament a few weeks ago, I realized that, for a kid like Evan, who has never played team sports, the biggest thing he's missed out on is the feeling of a Team Win (and yes, a Team Loss). He's had plenty of time and space to develop a lot of the other skills that are so fundamental to playing organized sports, but never that feeling of Collective Victory. DI was great for Evan for a number of reasons, but those 1st place medals that he earned together with his teammates were among the top of the top.

Friday's kickball win made me feel so similar to his DI team win....He was proud of his accomplishments, yes, but he knew that it wasn't he alone who won the game. The beauty of teamwork is that, win or lose, you're in it together. But, damn. I'm so happy my kid got to experience what it feels like to Win.

Lesson Learned:

The icing on the proverbial cake is that, when kids started arriving for Evan's party later that evening, two of the moms said to me, "I heard all about Evan's big kickball game today!" The boys went home and TOLD THEIR MOMS about something awesome my kid did WITH A BALL. ON A FIELD.

A birthday miracle, indeed.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Decade

I spent a whole day with my biggest boy this week, on a field trip to Jamestown Settlement in eastern Virginia. It was such a great day. I enjoyed watching his interactions with his peers, I swelled with pride as I listened to him rattle off fact after fact of colonial life to the museum docents, I just loved being with him....when we became separated in the group, being sought out by him...still, after all these years. 

I had planned, originally, to sit with a friend of mine on the bus. I assumed that, at nearly 10, my big boy would want to hang with his buds on the bus. Evan had other plans. 

"You can sit with me on the bus, Mom!" he said, as we packed backpacks and lunches and water bottles the night before. "We'll be field trip buddies! Ms. G said we each need a buddy. You'll be mine and I'll be yours so we can keep an eye on each other."

It was sweet...if controlling. But that's how Evan rolls. He always has. He has a heart of gold, that double-digit kid of mine...

...as long as he's the one calling the shots. 

A Decade. Today, that's how long I've been a mother. Longer than it took for me to progress through high school, college, AND my Masters program, but in the blink of an eye.

Wasn't it just yesterday? Last week at the most? No, I know it's been a journey. We've gone through so much and grown in such unexpected ways, my First Born and I. It's been a week and a lifetime all at once. The new mother, just two weeks in to her new role, who called her husband at work from the glider in the nursery, sobbing as she was unable to soothe her baby's hysterical cries. That was me. A different me. An anxious, overwhelmed, afraid-she-wasn't-up-to-this-monumental-task me. I can handle crying babies now. I know so much more.

I know the shush and the sway and the bob.
I know food allergies and reflux and colic.
I know teething and overtiredness and growth spurts. 

I can DO babies now. 

But that's no longer my task.

Now you're a real live human being who is actively having an impact on his world.


Am I doing this right? Am I teaching you the right things about respect and love and acceptance and kindness and responsibility and generosity and hard-work and perseverance and social justice and fundamental rights and ..... it goes on and on. The list is never-ending. Are you listening? Are you watching? Are you learning? It's my duty, as your mother, right? To send you off into this world with the tools and the drive to succeed but also the yearning to improve the world around you? Am I doing enough?

I'm back to being that anxious not-up-for-this-task mother. Only now, given the hindsight stretching a decade in my rearview mirror, the stakes seem so much higher...the time in which you are still my captive audience so much shorter. How do you raise a 10-year old? I've never done this before so, once again, you're my test subject. It's not fair but it's all we've got. 

But it's not all about me. It's about YOU. As you get older and you start to peek out from beneath my wing, begin inching towards the edge of our nest, peering out into a world that is all your own, I can see you. I can see more of you than when you were just beside me. You're no longer hidden from me within my shadow of Motherhood. You are your own person, a complete person! Your strengths, your gifts, your heart, that will touch the people around you and make an impact on this world that ripples beyond where you can see...beyond where I have the capacity to influence. Your gifts, my love, are plentiful.

You are Determined. God help the person who sets a limit for you, for you will be there to challenge him. As the person negotiating things like your Bed Time, this is a tricky point for me, but this will serve you well in adulthood. You will test boundaries and fight arbitrary limits because you're a rule follower...when the rules make sense. When they don't, you fight against the system that created illogical rules (mostly me and dad, when we assess a consequence that, to you, doesn't fit the crime). Don't ever give up your fight. Your moral compass is strong and true and, if you continue to follow it, you'll never be steered wrong.

You are Tender. You still struggle to show affection...unless you're in the same room as a baby or a dog. You are a Whisperer. You have a way with animals and babies and young kids that can't be taught. When people ask (because they always do) why I, a not-a-dog-person, would get a puppy, I say, "For Evan." Because you're not quick with the hugs for your mama or the "I Love You"s, you needed a dog to pour your love on. Jake is one lucky pup to be on the receiving end of your affection. I'm just happy I get to witness it.

You know your stuff. You told the Jamestown Settlement tour guide this week that an American Indian living in the area around Jamestown could fire 12 arrows from his bow in the same amount of time that it took a colonist to fire his musket once. The tour guide said, "I'm not sure of the specifics on timing, but..." "It's 12," you replied. Yours is an encyclopedic mind, which drives me crazy when I'm retelling a story with generalizations, but which just makes you so damn endearing. Who doesn't love the kid who always has a relevant Fun Fact to share? No one, that's who. Your Great Mom Mom called it Nickel Knowledge...information that isn't worth much, but it sure makes you a fun guest to have at parties.

You know who you are. I've been amazed, ever since you started school, at how uninfluenced by peers you are. I mean, sure: You pick up on social cues and cultural fads like the other kids (you can be sure that it wasn't me who introduced you to Minecraft, Pokemon, or Star Wars). You don't follow the herd, though, and THAT is impressive. You don't apologize for liking (or disliking) what you do, despite how other kids your age may feel. Whatever it is that you're doing or into, you own it. And that might be my very favorite thing about you...the one thing that, above all else, I hope sticks with you forever. 

Just keep being you, kiddo. 

Be quirky and goofy and introspective and emotional and strong-willed and hilarious. Be a walking encyclopedia. Be stubborn and gentle and get mad as hell every now and then. Be persistent and insistent and inquisitive. Be the last one up at night and the first one up in the morning. Continue to overpack your overnight bags because you're right when you quip, "You can never be too prepared!" Be smart and thoughtful and precise. Keep bringing books with you wherever you go. Always be the one to ask just one more question....and rattle off one more answer. 

That list right there? I love that about you. I love it all. I've been loving it something fierce for a decade now. It's the one thing in this 10-year long roller coaster ride of motherhood that hasn't changed a bit. 

Lesson Learned:

Happiest of Birthdays to you, Evan, the one who made me a mother. The one who forever changed my world 10 years ago today. Welcome to your double digits, kiddo. We can do this. YOU can do this.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Beauty....and Beastly

We had been looking forward to tonight for weeks. By the good fortune (luck o' the Irish) of having wonderful friends, we had the opportunity to be the guests of a real estate company for a private showing of the new Beauty and the Beast.

Molly, in particular, was counting down the hours and minutes until showtime. "I'm gonna be Belle today, Mommy. All day. And do my hair 'up and down' like Belle, too." So I hemmed and mended this worn-out, seam-ripped, too-long gown until it was fit for a princess. It took me all morning, but it was worth it. I tied her hair up in a perfect bun, which was adorably messy and loose within ten minutes. She was ready.

We arrived at the theatre early, as we do, so we could get good seats: way up high and in the back. We don't prefer to be too close to the lights or the sounds or the action. I passed out the candy that the leprechaun had smartly delivered to the kids this morning ("movie theatre-sized boxes" of Sour Patch Kids for Evan, Skittles for Molly, and Rainbow Nerds for Max) while we settled into our seats and Sam went back out to buy beers. You read that right! Beers in a movie theatre. You can get a full meal, too, but we had, again...smartly, eaten a nice, healthy, family dinner before the movie.

We are so organized and well-prepared for a nice night out at the movies!

While Sam was still waiting on our drinks, a man walked into the theatre with, presumably, his wife. "I didn't know this showing was in 3D!" he said casually, as he shuffled his drink and popcorn to better hold his 3D glasses.

And this is when we started to fall apart.

"Wait. What?!" Evan began. "I ALSO did not know this movie was in 3D. I was not told. You did not tell me. I will not wear 3D glasses. We need to leave. Let's leave. I'm leaving. Where's Daddy?"

"What glasses?" Molly asked. "Like sunglasses in a movie?"

And then Max chimed in: "Wait. Do things actually pop out at you when it's 3D? Like will the water splash us or something?"

"Alright, guys, hold on," I said, trying to remain calm but also realizing that, if it is indeed a 3D movie, we WILL not last and I WILL not get to see this movie that I (just now realized I) had been looking forward to for weeks!

"We don't even know that it IS 3D. I think we would have known when we got the invitation. I think the glasses are for a later show. We'll find out when Daddy gets back."

Evan continued to protest even remaining in the theatre awaiting an answer while I explained the difference between 3D movies and those interactive theme park "experiences" to Max. Molly seemed perfectly content with or without the shades.

Finally, Sam returned, handed me a giant, movie theatre-sized beer and immediately turned around to ask about the dimensional status of our movie...Evan leading the way.

A huge breath of relief later as we discovered that our movie was the standard, non-glasses-requiring movie, I opened the kids' giant boxes of candy and we counted down the last few minutes until showtime.

Now, I have to say, I was a fan of Beauty and the Beast before I even saw it. I love the animated classic, I love the music, I love Emma Watson (and I was so pissed at Slate for publishing that "but Emma can't sing like a Disney princess" article), I love the much-hyped ostensibly gay Le Fou subplot, and I knew that this movie was going to have to veer wildly into realms of weirdness if I was going to change my opinion on it.

What I didn't expect were the actual, legitimate goosebumps I felt during so many of the big, emotional scenes. The opening dance scene, the provincial-town hilltop scene, Be Our Guest, the ballroom scene, of course...but even others: Belle's rebuke of Gaston, her father's tenderness, the moment with the wolves when Beast saves her, then she him...and so much more. It was So well done.

But it was scary. The beginning was dark, the fight scenes intense. Molly and Max were buried deep in our chests and I could tell it was getting to Evan, too. I kept reminding them: "Beast isn't evil, he's just sad and lonely!" "This movie has a happy ending!" "Belle is fine!" and then, "Beast is fine! Remember? Just wait for the magic!"

There was one scene, though, that I wasn't prepared for....and I wasn't actually in the theatre when it came on....[spoiler alert....if you don't want to know, skip to the stars.]

Right after the scene where Belle begins to see the man within the Beast ("Something There"), I left with Molly for a potty break. It was such a lucky break. We came back to a pub scene.....and a hysterical Max. Like, sobbing. Apparently, we had missed a flashback. The scene depicted a family suffering from the plague. There was a brief, but not-to-be missed image of a doctor treating the family. The doctor was wearing one of those horrifying plague masks. Stuff of nightmares, that mask.


Max tried valiantly to pull himself together but he was just done. It was late. He was tired. It had been an intense movie. Sam took him out to the hallway, while I whisper-hissed after them "Come back for the happy ending! Don't let him leave the movie on THAT!!" Meanwhile, Evan was also asking to leave the movie and Molly, who thankfully had missed the worst part, was asking why her brothers didn't like the movie.

I convinced Evan to stay for the Furniture Strikes Back scene, one that truly did not disappoint and for which Max returned to the theatre just in time. The end of the movie progressed relatively smoothly, with many frantic reminders that there would be a happy ending, but well enough.

As the first of the ending credits rolled, I kissed Max, told him I was proud of him for bravely coming back in to watch the rest of the movie, and exhaled that we had made it through the entire film.

Annnnnnnnnnnd as I exhaled, I spilled Max's entire box of Nerds off my lap. He had probably eaten an eighth of the huge, movie theatre-sized box and those freaking Nerds spilled down from our seats, Way Up High and In the Back, cascading down the stadium seating, Nerd by Nerd, plink by plink.

It sounded like a freaking rainstick...and the sobbing began anew.

We literally could not leave that theatre fast enough. As we ran-walked past the St. Paddy's Day revelers on the pedestrian mall, Max continued to cry: "I'm not sad about the Nerds! I'm scared of that doctor! And I just don't do well at night in the dark when we're outside. And I'm tiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrreeeeeedddddd."

Evan distracted his own tired and over-stimulated mind by planning his actions when we returned to the house: "First, I'm gonna get some scotch tape. That'll keep the rest of these Sour Patch Kids safe and sound in this box..."

And good old Molly hiked her ball gown up by the ruffles so she didn't trip over it with her silver sparkly high-top sneakers.

All three fell asleep on the way home.

And I could really use another giant, movie theatre-sized beer right about now.

Lesson Learned:

My own family's antics aside, the movie was phenomenal. Three cheers for visual representation of interracial relationships, a gay (unrequited) love-interest, and a (reciprocal) budding gay romance. For this masterpiece, they even flipped the old "embarrass a guy by dressing him up like a girl" gag...two of the three forced into drag looked horrified, the third straight Owned that corset and rouge and winked at the camera 'cause he knew it. Well done, Disney.

And Emma, don't listen to the haters. That girl can sing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Molly's Whole Hand Birthday

Today, this beautiful girl is Five.

By the time Evan reached his just-before-kindergarten birthday, he was practically reading. It came as no surprise to me. We spent several times each day, and every bedtime, looking at books together...telling stories by the pictures, sounding out words, and me reading, reading, reading aloud whenever I had the chance.

When Max turned five, it was mostly the same. I had an older kiddo and a toddler at the time, so our reading time was limited mostly to bedtime, but still, we read a lot and, while we read, there was more than a little direct instruction in Reading Strategies and Skills.

Poor third kid, Molly. She's practically never without a pile of books within reach. She loves looking at picture books (and even some of the boys' old chapter books) but, sadly, there is no formal reading instruction happening in my house for her. Here she is, at her Whole Hand Birthday, counting down the months until she joins her big brothers in Elementary School, and I have neglected to prioritize this critical skill.

It wasn't on purpose. We're just busy. In the brief window of time together between when I pick her up from preschool and when we get the kids from school, we sometimes read or play a game but, more often than not she's off on her own in the playroom...decompressing from school while I try to check a few more things of my never-ending to-do list. I'd feel guilty if she wasn't so content to play on her own.

It hit me as I tucked her in the other night. I pulled her covers up tight and placed her stack of books beside her. Sam had already read to her (it's their nightly routine) but, for the life of me, I couldn't remember the last time I had. I sat down on her bed. "What are you reading, love?" She showed me the cover of her book...an anthology of stories I had grown up reading: The Best Nest, Put Me in a Zoo, Go Dog Go, and A Fly Went By.

"I'm reading the one about the Fly."

She turned back to her page and pointed to the first word: 

"So," she read.

And then she went on: "The fly ran away in fear of the frog, who ran from the cat, who ran from the dog...." She needed a little help with the word "fear" and the word "who," but once she heard them once, she mastered them within the repetitive text. She read then entire page to me, then looked up at me, at once proud and nonchalant.

"Molly," I began. "You just read! You're a READER!"

"I know," she said, with the confidence that flows through every bone in her tiny body. "I just look at the words and I just know what they say."

I had tears in my eyes...from pride, yes, but mostly from the fact that I felt like I missed it. I remember each stage of Evan's and Max's reading progression...from the very slow and deliberate identification of beginning sounds, to the stretching out of words and finding smaller chunks of known phonemes within larger words, to sight word awareness, and finally, to Reading. 

Molly is not some super-advanced reading savant. She's bright, yes. Very. But developmentally, she's doing exactly what she should be doing. It's not that she's mastered the skill before she should be ready to, it's that she's so much older and wiser than I ever give her credit for being. 

Poor third kid, Molly.

Try as she might to grow up, she'll always be my baby.

She says Big Kid things now like, "I forgot to mention...." and "So, the other day...."

A few nights ago, when I reminded her that she was perfectly capable of using the potty without me having to get out of bed to help her, she said, after sighing audibly, "I just feel like you're never nice." So, you know, we're even practicing for the teenage years already. 

But still, she's my baby.

By the time the boys were her age, there was another kid or two beneath them in the birth order. They were expected to be bigger than their ages should have required because, frankly, I needed the help. She sleeps in our bed (a nursing infant no longer needs the space) and I carry her back to the car from preschool (without a carseat to lug around or a baby strapped to my chest, I've got the extra hands). 

I probably shouldn't baby her so much. She's so big. She's so capable. She's so strong.

I just can't help it.
She's my baby.

This girl. With her big heart...

Her confidence and grace...

Her sense of self....and of style...

Her humor, her sass, her imagination, her kindness, her adventurous spirit, her bursting vocabulary, her willingness to try new things (not new foods--she's still as picky as ever--but new experiences), her ability to hang with the big kids, her tenderness...her spunk...

She's my favorite girl in the world. And this world? It's a better place because she's in it.

As we walked out of school after picking up her brothers the other day, she said, "You know what, Mommy? I'm a little bit nervous about being in Kindergarten." I assured her that everyone feels that way. "I was even nervous about my first day of Kindergarten when I was the teacher!" I said. I squeezed her hand a little and felt that pang in my chest. Before I know it, she'll be off on her own in this great big world of Elementary School. She's ready and so am I....but damn. What a day that will be when I kiss all three of my little ducklings goodbye and send them off together. There's the beauty in being the Baby, though....when she's off on her way, she'll have her two big brothers beside her.

And is there any better place to be? 
Little girl of ours, you are so loved.

Lesson Learned:
On this, your fifth birthday, I have just one request from the universe on your behalf: Come true, wishes! Every last one of them. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

there's a first time for everything

To be fair, it wasn't actually my first time. I had been once before. It was in college and I only went because I was the victim of peer pressure. I knew before I even donned the requisite form-fitting attire that it wouldn't really be my scene, but my roommates were going and I went along with the crowd. Baaaaa.

It was the most awkward 30 or so minutes of my life. I walked around aimlessly, trying not to make eye contact with the beautiful people around me. They belonged there, not me...and it showed.

Unable to shake the intimidation the actual equipment inspired, I finally got down on a mat. I did a few sit-ups. I stood back up and wandered around a bit more. Finally, realizing that no, this was definitely not my scene...and craving breadsticks from the dining hall, I left....thus ending my first ever trip to The Gym.

After that, I discovered yoga. The studio was my scene and I never thought to reenter the sweaty, bulky world of Exercise Equipment again. When the kids came along, I couldn't even find regular time and energy to go to a studio. I started doing yoga in my living room (with Yoga with Adriene on YouTube). I was content with my level of activity. My genetic-disposition to a thin build, a healthy metabolism, and very little family history of health issues, coupled with the fact that I am a busy mom of three, led me to believe that I was taking good care of my body.

And then, my littlest sister became a Personal Trainer.

She, very kindly, educated me on the facts of (a long, healthy, and active) life. It's not enough to be thin and, what I consider to be, "active." In order to protect my body and my bones and my joints and my organs, I need to incorporate core-strength development into my routine. I don't have to bench hundreds of pounds of weight, but resistance training is important for protecting the muscles I will depend on to remain as active as I want to be as I age. Yoga is great, she agrees, but she had a few ideas in mind (and a free personal training session) for me....if I could just meet her at The Gym.

I agreed. And not all that reluctantly, either! I agree with her that, even if the most active that I ever strive to be is to be able to hike with my family, to have the stamina to keep up with their busy lives, to work out in my garden, and to age well, I'll need to work to protect the body that, up until now, I've largely taken for granted.

There was just one problem...and I called my sister the night before our session to talk it over.

"Um, hi," I started.
"Uh-oh....what?" she asked, probably thinking I was about to bail on her.
"So...it turns out...don't laugh....I don't have any shoes."
[snicker] "Wait, what?"
"Yogis go barefoot! And I don't think my hiking shoes are gym-appropriate. So, can you bring an extra pair?"
[barely audible through the laughter] "Sure. Ohmygod." [laughter continues as we hang up]

So, with that one tiny little hurdle behind us, we met in the parking lot of the gym the next morning where we did a little shoe switcheroo.

"Are you nervous?" she asked, as we entered the gym.
"Not about the exercise. I know you'll go easy on me. But I'm just a little worried that I'll see people I know here. What if they look at me? What if they're all 'What are you doing here, Sarah?'"

She smiled, but I'm pretty sure there was a sisterly eye-roll thrown in there, too. "Okay, really? It's not like that. I promise. It's a safe space. Everyone's welcome."

She introduced me to the gym manager at the desk and, while we shook hands, I caught the eye of a friend of mine over her shoulder. We did a quick smile and wave and she went back to her machine.

"Ugh. SEE? I know people!" I whined.
"Ohmygod, stop worrying! It's totally fine."

We walked over to the lockers to stash our bags. I saw two more fit and confident women, whom I know from school and the neighborhood. Brief smiles were exchanged as I nervously wiggled my toes in my sister's shoes.

"Alright, let's start back here," my sister instructed, leading the way to a quiet corner of the gym. We sat down on a bench and she brought out her Personal Trainer paperwork to do an assessment of my fitness goals. She hadn't started with question one when a friend of mine on the stair stepper machine glanced over her shoulder and spotted me.

I waved and, rather than just ignoring me and going back to her machine, she REMOVED HER EARBUD.

"Sarah! I never thought I'd run into you here!" she said with a little laugh.

"Ugh, I know! She forced me!" I said, half-joking, as I introduced her to my sister.

"I think it's great!" my friend said, stepping the hell out of that machine, though you'd never know it by just talking to her. I would have been too winded to speak. "Hey, you're here for the first time...I'm trying yoga for the first time this year!"

I felt a bit better. She would probably feel just as fish-out-of-water walking into a yoga studio for the first time. I relaxed a bit...even though, my social fears confirmed, she was literally the fourth person, in as many minutes, that I knew there.

Annnnndddd...then another neighbor walked by and said hello.

So apparently the gym is a social scene.

Another one of my favorite things. Awesome.


We were there for an hour and I'm so proud of my littlest sister. She did a great job with a less-than-ideal client. With her help, I identified my fitness goals:

  • to age healthily
  • to maintain an energy-level that enables me to keep up with my kids
  • to maintain heart health
  • and yes...to keep my tummy flat(ish) and my arms toned (gotta keep that bicep tattoo from sagging!)
She showed me how to use several of the machines safely and effectively, then instructed me on a floor circuit for core strength and free-weights circuit for strength and balance. My favorite of all of the activities were the ones using the Bosu (the half-exercise ball) and the wobble board. It felt like playing, but I could feel my body working. Just like yoga.

Did my session with a Personal Trainer change me? Yes and no. I'm going to be honest: I'm still not joining a gym. I told my sister that my issue was mostly motivation. If I knew that she would meet me at the gym several times a week to walk me through an exercise routine like the one we just did, I'd consider signing up (as long as I was able to get over the working-out-in-public self-consciousness). I just don't see myself making the most of my time there without someone telling me what to do next. She suggested group classes....but then there's the whole "other people" issue. Ugh. I'm the worst.

My sister did inspire me, though. She left me with a list of activities that, with minimal or no equipment, I can do at home. Maybe...just maybe...once I become more comfortable and confident with my practice at home, I'll give the gym another go. Third time's a charm?

Lesson Learned:
To my friends and neighbors, if you ever see me in the gym, let's just pretend we're strangers, 'kay? Thanks. Oh, and if you happen to be looking for a Personal Trainer, I happen to know a great one. Let me know if you want me to connect you!